Ashland to Shelter Cove

Day 111: Callahan’s (1717.7) to Hyatt Lake Camp (1744.3)

July 29 // 26.6 miles

And so the double zero ends, although I have no doubt there will be more, us being the lazy town-loving turds we are. Packed up and got a ride back to Callahan’s with Honeybee’s mother, apologizing sheepishly for our smelly gear on her pristine leather seats. While the family said goodbye to Honeybee, I went with fingers crossed to check whether my box had arrived, and thankfully it had! There was no option to bounce it ahead from Callahan’s, my next opportunity to split and mail it will be at Crater Lake in a couple days so I’m CARRYING IT ALL. We’re talking enough tuna, rice, PB, tortillas, ramen, chocolate bars, candy, mini pecan pies and trail mix to make up the bulk of three resupply boxes, on top of all the food I bought in Ashland in case the box hadn’t come. My pack felt heavy as hell, and crammed to the point of exploding, but still better than throwing away so much food. I am hiker santa, leaving a trail of overflowing snacks to be distributed to anyone that may have shorted their resupply, and can eat mac and cheese for every meal of the day this stretch should I so choose. 

My jubilance at the package’s arrival was diminished a little when it came time to walk from Callahan’s back to the trail. The extra weight paired with town legs had me physically hurting before we had gotten through the mile road-walk, and flat highway pavement would be a hell of a lot less strenuous than the uphill to come later on. Once we were back in the woods, it didn’t take very long to fall behind my group and I was moving slow through the first nine miles. It was taking everything I had to fight the urge to sit down and rest even though there was nothing more challenging than a gentle incline.

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I struggled my way through the woods and caught up to PC, Eli and Honeybee having lunch in the tiny patch of shade near our first water source-a tiny trickle over the grass that was more of a puddle than a stream. I ate a double lunch knowing that every bite meant I was lightening my monster food weight. There were a couple other hikers that showed up to share our lunch spot, including Cream, a british hiker who started on the same day as the other four. I met her waaaaay back in Wrightwood and haven’t seen her since. Funny to think how close we are to so many other people but the fact that we’re all moving about the same speed means it’s rare to have consistent overlap with new hikers. Despite the social opportunity, I didn’t hang around long after eating, wanting to get some miles in after our late start. 

The afternoon was hot, temps well in the nineties, and I had to carry extra water to make up for the lack of good sources today. All this combined with missing Bagels made it one of my least enjoyable days, and the trail wasn’t offering much in the way of bettering my mood. It was mostly exposed grassy fields mixed with sparse forest. The smoke was the worst it’s been since Etna. No views worth mentioning except for the sun, looking huge and bright red through the smog, even at midday.  

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The evening improved, with clearer air and a temperature drop. I had a much better time with my big lunch energy, cruising to a dammed lake outlet where my group was sitting on a log beside the river eating WATERMELON. They had been there a while waiting for me and received trail magic-fruit and coke-from a local that lived nearby. They were nice enough to save me a few pieces of the precious watermelon and that made the crappy afternoon a lot better. We decided to make dinner there on the stream bank before pushing a few more miles to “dry” camp at a campground near the edge of a marshy lake. The GPS comments said the lake was hard to reach and poor quality, so we took enough water to get us through the night. 

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The last few miles were flat and easy, with the monotonous grassy scrub blending back into the woods. Took a side trail down to set up at the horse corral part of the campground, taking full advantage of the pit toilet that also had a trash can. It’s the little things. There was paved road access to our site, rare on the PCT, but we didn’t see a single car all night…maybe closed or abandoned, but very definitely deserted. I’d been hoping to swim in the lake but the GPS comments were accurate, it was inaccessible from our camp and covered in a thick mat of green algae.

The site itself is very nice, lots of open space with a picnic table and a soft bed of dried pine needles. We all set up our tents even though there are no bugs and the weather is fine, sometimes it’s just nice to have that extra security of a thin wall of cuben fiber and netting. Throat is feeling raw and my voice is scratchy, I’m guessing breathing in the smoky air the past week hasn’t done wonders for my lungs.

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Day 112: Hyatt Lake Camp (1744.3) to Hwy 140 (1773.4)

July 30 // 29.1 miles

A much better day today after my poor showing out of Ashland. The soreness and fatigue were gone, it seems to be a leaving-town weariness that always evaporates after a night back on trail. Slept in too late, hanging around camp making coffee and wasting time reorganizing my monster food supply. Didn’t leave until 9, but only after using the pit toilet again of course, must take full advantage of toilet paper. PC and I took a small shortcut along the paved camp road that intersected with the PCT a half mile later and went our separate ways (speeds).

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I think the smoke was at its worst today, but it’s hard to tell since I’ve become so used to it. I know that it isn’t a good thing-the air is definitely not healthy and it means that somewhere nearby there is forest burning-but I can’t help but admire the way the filtered half-light makes everything feel surreal, and how it’s impossible to tell the time of day without a watch since it always looks like a perpetual, golden-hour 7pm. The ridges of NorCal are in the rearview, with most of today under cover of the forest. I enjoy both, the viewless woods being more monotonous than soaring ridge lines, but it’s where I feel most at home and today was especially nice because with the smoky sunlight that came through the trees.

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Crossed an open aqueduct at Grizzly creek which curved away parallel to a dirt road. I wasn’t sure if the water was good for drinking, Guthooks comments mentioned something about it being contaminated with chemicals. It looked fine but I held out just in case and went waterless for the following four miles climb up to a piped spring. Honeybee, Eli and PC were settling in for a break when I arrived and the cool water flowing from the pipe was decidedly worth waiting for.

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The lunch spot was crowded with seven other hikers, no one that I recognized. We chatted with them, asking all the usual hikers questions…trail name, where you from, what’s your start date…all had come up to Ashland from Etna and Seiad Valley to avoid smoke, which according to them wasn’t much better than here. They also told us that the next few days are supposed to be pretty bad as well, especially around Crater Lake. Hopefully the trail stays open and we can get through the worst of it shortly.

After one more mile of climbing, the rest of the day was mostly downhill flat and allowed for easy cruising. I noticed a ton of huckleberries growing on the bushes alongside the trail, but still unripe and bitter. While checking out the berries, I caught my toe on a rock which tore the foam off the front of my right shoe and left my sock visibly poking out from the hole. I’m overdue for new shoes anyways, these have had a lot of miles put on, the soles are flat as a pancake and peeling away from the main footbox. I’m noticing a lot of soreness in my feet and legs even on easy days like this, which is always fixed by a springy pair of fresh runners.

Detoured slightly off trail to get water from a wooden cabin mountain shelter (South Brown?) that had a manual hand pump that brought water up from the ground in huge splashing bursts. My friends were taking advantage of the picnic table in the clearing by the cabin and eating second late-afternoon lunch, swatting at wasps and reading the battered trail log left in a metal box on the table. Bagels came through here almost 24 hours ago, and I’m missing him even though it’s only been two days.

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In the late afternoon, the trail started winding through the lava fields, there was nothing to look at except for black rock stretching away with the odd patch of green managing to push its way through. The trail itself was a red gravel that contrasted the black rock, and combined with the glow from the eerie haze sunset, it was seriously apocalyptic looking. I could see Eli and PC hiking far ahead of me and they looked like ghosts moving through the smoke and kicking up dust that seems to have coated everything. It was easy to get into the mindset that this was the end of the civilization-we were just wandering through this burnt-out wasteland and there was nothing out in the real world to go back for.

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The apocalypse daydream spell was broken when my phone beeped, picking up one bar of service. It was Bagels, texting from his Garmin Inreach. He had done back to back 40 mile days and was feeling pretty run down, but still on track to make it for his trip home. I tried my best not to selfishly ask him to stay and wait for us, but he said he’d make a final decision based on how he feels tomorrow.

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Finished the day at a large flat clearing down a hill underneath Highway 140. For being alongside a major road, it was a surprisingly good campsite. Lots of flat space tucked away in the fir trees and a rushing stream to cover the noice of the passing semi trucks. There were a couple tents set up when I got there, but I found a little space off to the side with Honeybee, Eli and PC. There’s a resort down the highway via a short hitch but none of us felt the need for anything in modern civilization and settled in for the night.

I’ve been getting annoying mild headaches that last 2-3 days and I’m smack in the middle of one right now so it’s early to bed for me. The nights have been so warm lately I forget what it feels like to have to pull my quilt in tight to try and keep cold air out, now I use it as more of an extra mattress than anything else. Reluctantly agreed to up our milage for tomorrow during our post dinner chat, I know my limits and anything past 30 isn’t much fun for me, but it would be nice to get out of the smoke as soon as possible and bank up some time that can be used for smaller days down the road in more challenging Washington.

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Day 113: Hwy 140 (1773.4) to Jack Spring Trail (1808.9)

July 31 // 35.5 miles 

There wasn’t much in terms of scenery to stop for today, so we managed a solid 35 mile day without many breaks. I know Oregon will get better the further North we go, but right now it’s hot and dry and dusty and the trail here has been absolutely devastated by fires in the past few years. Started with a short climb but the day was mostly flat, and doing big days feels like nothing in Oregon, it’s going to pass by quickly.

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The main colour palettes were black and white, with some bright red-orange from where the burnt bark of trees had split away from the inner trunk. The burn zones have a distinctive woody smell that reminds me visiting lumber stores as a kid with my dad, mixed with syrupy sweet from the toasted sap. I found it odd at first but it’s become one of my favourite trail smells. The few opportunistic plants that had managed to grow were all the same type of green broadleaved bushes with bright red berries, that provided at least a little contrast against the stark white of the burnt trees and ashy rock.

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There were small breaks from the crisped woods as we criss crossed the border of the burn zones, but the smoke was constant, I’m really struggling with it. I think it’s been triggering the headaches I’ve had since Ashland, and all of us have been coughing through the nights from the throat tickle that never goes away. We did get some good news while stopping for lunch at a spring, Bagels texted to say that he was ditching the trip home and was taking a zero day at Crater Lake, where we’ll be tomorrow morning. This really improved the blah mood, I can’t wait to have him back with us again and I know the group feels a little off when someone is missing after 1500 miles together.

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As the sun started to set, the burn zone turned into something else entirely. The trees left standing had been reduced to charred black stumps and hardly any vegetation had re-grown. The only way to differentiate the trail in all the ash was following the foot prints from hikers that have passed ahead of me. It was a total monospace for the last few miles to camp, and the setting sun turned the smoke a rainbow of pinks and oranges. The sun itself was huge and bright red. It was eerie but beautiful in it’s own way, I’ve never seen anything like it. I sat and ate dinner alone in the silence, no sign of life here at all.

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Our campsite (or what used to be a campsite) was a flat space in the dust in a cluster of burned pines. I’d spent hours dawdling through the last few miles trying to take it all in and didn’t arrive until dark. Cream was there along with PC, Honeybee and Eli, already in their tents for the night. I set up in a little hollow of pine needles, cowboy camping seemed like the easiest way not to wake anyone up. Tomorrow it’s a quick 8 miles to the road that will take us to Crater Lake and I’m excited to see both the lake, and Bagels.

Day 114: jack Spring Trail (1808.9) to Highway 62 (1820.9)

August 1 // ~18 miles

+4.8 of Crater Rim Trail

Leaving our desolate campsite, there were so many blow downs of dead snags I had a hard time keeping track of the trail. There’s been a lot of effort already made at clearing the trees, which is super impressive since we’re in a wilderness area that restricts the use of anything with a motor…including chainsaws. Trail volunteers cut away huge trees using hand saws and axes, and I appreciated every cleared tree that didn’t require a scramble or duck-under.

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Finally the trail left the burn zone behind and the forest came back in full green glory. We were the speed club this morning, everyone rocketing up and down hills to kill the 8 miles before Mazama Village and Crater Lake. I was doubly incentivized knowing there was a restaurant breakfast ahead and also a reunion with Bagels and I felt amazing, put my poles away and flew down the trail without stopping.

Close to the road, there was a film crew setting up alongside the trail, they were using leaf blowers to clear out the film shot and setting up massive cameras. It was odd to see people wearing town clothes on the trail and they seemed too busy for any chatting. At the road there was a short highway walk to Mazama village at the foot of Crater Lake. I thought I had beat everyone by a good margin for once but nope, PC came popping out of the bushes behind me as I headed down the highway. We made our way down the road to Mazama village, which wasn’t more than a large parking lot with a restaurant, small guest camping store, and some cement bathrooms. The best part was at the picnic table, there was Bagels! I’m sorry that he’s missing his trip home, but it’s way more fun to have our group intact again. We got caught up on our three days apart (it feels like so much longer) and when the other arrived, wandered over to the restaurant for a late breakfast. The restaurant and attached gift shop felt tacky and touristy, but not many tourists were here today due most likely to smoke and the parking lot remained empty. While we were eating, Eli gleefully announced that the film crew we’d passed was from Coors, to sponsor and film a feature on a fellow thru hiker. We found this hilarious because of how much effort Bagels had put in during the desert miles trying to get a sponsorship from Coors, including packing an entire case of beer up Baden-Powell.

Spent the afternoon sitting around outside the store sorting out resupply. I organized my food as best I could, washed my socks in one of the bathroom sinks and charged up my battery pack. The store was selling wine in bulk and we grabbed a few bottles for the evening walk.

I thought it was supposed to be a pretty flat day, but to get up Mazama mountain to Crater Lake we took a crazy steep two mile side trail up Annie Creek. Washing off in the bathroom had been completely pointless because by the time I finished the climb I had soaked though my shirt entirely. There was another lodge and parking lot at the top of the climb and Bagels and I waited for the others and bought overpriced wraps for dinner. Other than a couple disappointed looking families there is no one here, the cafeteria lady said that numbers have completely dropped during the past couple summers because of the smoke.

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Still had over ten miles to get around the lake and to our planned campsite back on the PCT, but we were lazy as hell and didn’t set out until after 6pm. I had rushed to the rim of the lake when we arrived, but it was so smoky that you couldn’t see anything inside the caldera at all. I was pretty disappointed, but the group had fun anyways making no real progress and drinking wine. The rim trail paralleled the highway around Crater Lake, sometimes we climbed along the gravel trail rising up and down the rim of the caldera, but if it looked particularly steep or roundabout we just followed the road instead.

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A little too much wine later Honeybee pointed out that we were losing daylight and that in our current state of intoxication it probably wasn’t the best idea to be wandering along the narrow shoulder of highway or the steep drop offs along the Rim Crater trail, and either way we were still hours away from our campsite back on the PCT. We had a quick trailside discussion and the majority were in favour of stopping, the wine and dark combined seemed like one risk too many. We wandered away from the lake rim to set up at Lightning creek, our only other camping option.

Barely made any progress around the Rim Trail so it’ll be a long haul tomorrow with the 7 miles tacked on just to get back to the PCT. There was some debate about waking up early in hopes that the lake will be clear first thing in the morning but I am good and drunk and would much prefer a nice sleep-in, especially since it is now waaaayyyy past dark and we’re still sitting in a circle talking, although PC has fallen asleep mid-sentence against his pack.

Day 115: Crater Rim Trail (1839.2) to Maidu Lake (1865.9)

August 2 // ~33.4 miles

+6.7 of Crater Rim Trail

Bagels woke me up around 7:30 to get packed, and upon exiting the tent we found that PC, Eli and Honeybee must have managed to stick to their planned 5am wakeup. They were off to climb to a nearby fire lookout and catch the sunrise over the lake. I wondered where my sense of adventure and ambition was as I ate my muffin slowly and wondered how long I could stretch out packing up before hiking. By the time I was ready, Bagels was long gone. I need to get more disciplined with my morning routine.

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Back up from camp to finish the Crater Rim trail, it was still disappointingly smoked out and all I could see of the lake was where the sun reflected off the water, gleaming orange through a wall of haze. I ended up road walking most of it just to avoid the climbs that dipped up and down around the lake, just wanting to get back into the woods. The second half of the trail was flat and boring once it peeled away from the caldera and headed back towards the PCT. In retrospect, I’m sure this would have been an amazing detour had it not been so smoked out, but I’m pretty let down with the overall visit to Crater Lake, especially since it’s been on my bucket list since I was twelve.

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The one upside to the alternate was that with 0 elevation gain this morning I was cruising, and made good time back to the main trail, where I found Eli and Bagels taking a break. Eli let us know that Honeybee and PC were not far ahead. Cooked some ramen to try and bump my low energy levels. The power of carbs kicked in shortly after the break when the trail began to climb. When I broke out of the trees, something felt different and it took me a second to put my finger on it….NO SMOKE. There was a perfect view of the forest and lakes far below and not a trace of smog. It’s been so long, I had a euphoria high breathing the clean air and enjoying the bluebird sky and actual views. When I got high enough to look back at Crater lake, there was a visible barrier where the smog was blanketing all of Mt Mazama, I have no idea why it hasn’t reached the trail here but it was like night and day. Hopefully this means the worst is behind us. Ahead, there was a perfect view of Mt Thielsen rising up ahead and shaped like the top of a soft-serve ice cream cone. The trail didn’t go all the way to the summit, only partway up on the ridgeline, and then split away and dropped back down into the trees.

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Made good time through the afternoon to our campsite just off trail at Maidu Lake. When I arrived, the first thing I noticed was the huge flock of swallows darting around high above the water and moving in perfect unison as a group. The second thing I noticed was a pleasant surprise- along with my usual crew, our old friends Raven and First Row were sitting on the bank! I haven’t seen either of them since the Sierra, and never both at the same time, but they seem to have coupled up and are now hiking together. Cream and Front Row were already in the water while everyone caught up and I dropped my pack at a small dusty patch at the edge of the clearing to join them.

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The lake water was warmer than the air and I floated around for a bit, trying to avoid touching the muddy bottom that sucked at my feet. The group took turns throwing their water containers out so I could fill them away from the silty shallows near the bank. Upon finally getting out, I had to step carefully because the bank was covered with hundreds of tiny frogs smaller than my thumbnail. The wind had picked up and I couldn’t wait for my skin to dry without a towel and so had to put on my base layer sleep clothes while I was still soaking wet. I brought my stove and pot to the lakeside to eat with the others, but I was so chilled I stopped dinner halfway to unpack and get into my bag.

Set up my tent with numb fingers and now I’m wrapped up tightly in my quilt like this is another Sierra night, here in the middle of the Oregon desert. I can feel a head cold coming on and I have the sniffles, swimming probably wasn’t that bright in this weather that feels more like fall than early August. Even though the campsite is huge, there are a lot of hikers and I can hear a lot of snoring and shifting on inflatable pads. Hopefully can get some sleep soon and line up for a big day tomorrow.

Day 116: Maidu Lake (1865.9) to Shelter Cove Resort (1906.2)

August 3 // 34 miles

The downside of sharing a large social campsite is that most hikers tend to get going hours earlier than I do and so I was woken by the early risers packing up their gear, half impressed and half annoyed when I checked the time and saw it was 4:45 in the morning. I briefly entertained the idea of getting started right then and there just to see what it felt like, but it was chilly when I got out of my tent to pee and it was too easy to climb back into my warm bag and get a couple more hours of sleep.

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At 6:30, woke up still sniffly from last night, which meant I had slept with my mouth wide open and drooled all over my quilt. I could hear PC and Bagels chatting quietly as they packed up. Eli, Honeybee and Cream were already gone when I climbed out of my tent to collect my sports bra and shorts from the branches they were hanging on, still wet from my swim. It was cold as fuck and I dawdled around trying to put off changing into my wet clothes and making coffee beside the lake, the last to leave as usual.

A gradual uphill got me warmed up, the woods were deadly quiet and I skipped my music to soak in the absolute silence. In the mornings especially I love hiking alone without seeing a soul, getting lost in thoughts until I eventually meet friends having their late morning or lunch break. Today I was in my own world until catching up with Bagels and PC at a small water cache along a dirt road. The spot also marked where we split off the PCT to join the Oregon Skyline Trail to Shelter Cove resort. I was regretting our choice at first since the first two miles were along an ugly dirt road but soon it then it was back into a beautiful old-growth forest to give us a taste of what’s to come in Washington. Hiking was easy and mostly downhill or flat, looping far around a huge campground and crossing a confusing network of dirt roads.

Near the campground, the woods became mostly deciduous and the ground was sandy. Lots of mountain bikers came in the opposite direction which I’ve never seen on trail before, the PCT doesn’t allow bike access. I had decided not to stop for lunch until catching up with my group somewhere around the campground, but even after not stopping for anything more than water in 23 miles, there was no sign of them anywhere. I was feeling a little left behind, didn’t think I was that slow, but then there was Eli sitting at a picnic table beside a horse corral and a couple empty campsites. He hadn’t seen anyone, including Bagels and PC, who should have been in between us and we figured we had all lost each other somewhere on the network of dirt roads around the campground.

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Made ramen for lunch with Eli, eating of course improved my mood as it always does. I enjoyed the climb up into Diamond Peak wilderness much more than the morning downhill. Passed a couple riders returning to the horse camp where we’d spent lunch, but I saw no one else on foot after Eli left me behind. I knew I was way behind the rest of the group, and that the Shelter Cove restaurant closed at 6, so I was trying to push without breaks which went real well until Diamond Lake. There was a little beach along the shoreline, perfect for swimming, with a clearing in between beach and trail. Sat for a minute staring at Diamond Peak across the water and debating whether I wanted to swim or get to civilization. Of course there’s always only one priority, left my pack and clothes in the clearing and since there was absolutely no one around, ran through the woods nude and into the water.

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Very warm water but deceptively shallow, it was never deeper than my waist no matter how far I went out. After splashing around for a bit I heard voices echoing from across the lake and scrambled back into my clothes before a pair of elderly couples made their way around the bend. They were staying at Shelter Cove and were up to the lake for a day hike. They advised me that I should get going if I wanted to get back to the lodge before dark which I found amusing considering it would take me an hour to finish the four downhill miles, but they were just being friendly and trying to look out for me.

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The downhill through the woods really started to look like typical Pacific Northwest-huge moss-covered trees lined the banks of Trapper Creek which I followed all the way down, enjoying the background noise of rushing water. It was crystal clear and lined with brightly coloured pebbles. At about 5:45 the woods gave way to a dirt road, where I crossed a set of train tracks and followed a larger paved road up to the Shelter Cove resort. Pretty good time for a 35 mile day and even so I was still the last by far of my group to make it in, they’re so speedy.

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The resort looked rustic and friendly, and I passed by little log cabins scattered in the woods on my way to the main lodge and restaurant, which overlooked a bright blue lake. PCT hikers had commandeered a couple of picnic tables on the deck, most of whom I didn’t know. My crew was already working on a six pack and a couple large pizzas, nothing is better than sitting down after a good long day to a cold beer and the knowledge that tomorrow is a nero out. PC had a friend from home here to pick him up for a night in town, we were all offered the same ride but opted to stay here and let PC catch up with his buddy.

After spending the evening here I was certain we had made the right call in staying. Both staff and fellow campers were friendly and interested in hearing about how our hike was going. A very relaxed atmosphere, with families out in front of their tents or RV’s making BBQ and watching small packs of children run around the lakeshore. The pizza from Hook and Talon restaurant was delicious, the store had everything we needed for a resupply, and there was an area out behind the RV campgrounds for PCT hikers to set up in the woods. Bagels and I found a perfect little spot not far back from the road that had it’s own picnic table.

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After setting up, I went for a shower that was absolutely heavenly, and sat around the fire with Honeybee, Eli and Bagels until we were too sleepy to be awake any longer. Great stop and tomorrow we have the morning off while we wait for PC to get dropped back off. Oregon up until Crater Lake has so far been my least favourite section of the trail, but I have a feeling it’s only going to get better from here.

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